September 16, 2011

Guest Post: How to get Parents off Our Backs (in novels)

I'm delighted to welcome Christina Lee to the blog today for a Psychtember guest post!
First, a bit about her:  

Christina Lee has been a social worker and a special education teacher (also, a dinosaur excavator, a Lego contractor, and a Thomas the Train conductor), and finally realized that she could turn her love of words into her DREAM of writing. 
She writes freelance and Young Adult fiction and blogs at . She also own a hand-stamped jewelry business called Tags-n-Stones, which requires her to stamp lots of letter and words onto pieces of silver. Notice a pattern here?

And now her guest post! 

In my former life, I spent more than a decade as a child and family therapist in various school, home and treatment center settings. The majority of those sessions were spent teaching parents to utilize new skills/ideas to help their child function at home and school. 

Of course, there are meds that help tremendously with certain diagnoses (AHDH or depression, for example) and the child can learn coping and social skills in therapy. But by and large, the parents hold the bulk of responsibility for helping that child along. And usually by the time they come see a therapist, they are tired, sad, frustrated and at their wits end. 

Totally understandable. Somewhere along the line the family hit a roadblock and needed a tune up or a major overhaul to help regain their quality of life. 

The two biggest pot holes I’d seen with parents in therapy were: (1) not being on the same page (or backing each other up, for that matter), and (2) being inconsistent and unrealistic with rewards and consequences. Yes, I’m boiling it down to those two points to keep this post short and sweet. :)

So, as writers of Middle Grade and Young Adult novels, we know that in order for our protagonist  to experience some of the adventures they do in our books, we need to get the parents out of the picture.  

On the whole, recent books I’ve read had divorced, absentee parents or large parental issues going on (alcoholism, abuse, etc.). This obviously helps the protagonist when it comes to sneaking out of the house, coming home late and not having to answer to anyone.

But we don’t always need those larger issues to help our main character out.  A perfectly healthy and intact family has normal, everyday issues to help us writers do our job.

If you need to get your MG or YA parents “out of the picture”, have them disagree on curfew times or after-school activities. 

Or, have the MC pit one parent’s word against the other.  Guilt works wonders for all parents (me included). :)

Lastly, a parent could be inconsistent with rules in the house. For example, grounding them for an unrealistic two months in a fit of anger, and then letting them off one week (or day) later. 

Make sense? Good luck and happy writing!

Thanks very much, Christina, for these great suggestions! 

Readers — do you think the larger issues for getting parents out of the picture are overused? Would you like to see more healthy, functional families in YA?


  1. This is fascinating! I've always wondered how to deal with the parent problem without killing off the parents. Thanks so much for these suggestions!

  2. In my books, the parents tend to work night shifts in the hospital. Apparently my fictious city's hospital is a major employee, and it prefers to hire parents of teens who need to get their parent out of the house. :D

  3. I've found with my mid-grade novels that it's not so much getting the parents out of the picture than it is getting the kids out of the house. Lots of adventures can take place at school, etc., without the the parents ever knowing about it.

  4. Love!

    I get a little tired of the overly absent parents in books. I mean, ya sometimes it's necessary. Sometimes, it's the whole point of the story. But, I also think it's possible to have a story where the teens have issues or troubles BUT they still have a functional family. Even if the parents and teens fight a lot. I know I fought with my parents a lot, but I would never have said they didn't at least love me.

    While I know that the crappy families, parents and households happen, I think the vast majority of parents and families are doing the best they can, the best they know how, but it definitely doesn't mean that everything will be perfect all of the time. I'd like that to be shown in a book sometime...

  5. Yeah, this is a great way to make parents realistic. It's weird to read the parents died or are impaired in some way. Sometimes I just want to read about parents who are just normal parents.

  6. Appreciate these parenting techniques. Absent or impaired parents seems to be an easy way to deal with the family issues. I like the suggestions, especially the one where a parent is inconsistent.

  7. Stina---HAHA!!


    Ashley--I agree.

    Najela--me too.

  8. Ha those are so much better than the completely negligent parents or the "big issue" reasons for parental absenteeism.


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